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Heat-driven concoctions to welcome spring


After one of San Diego’s longest, darkest, coldest, and wettest winters in memory, spring could not have come any faster. The arrival of this new, sunnier season has inspired many people with myriad ways to celebrate: planting a new garden, stashing winter coats back into storage, and of course, enjoying some bright, cheerful cocktails with friends.

Aaron Ritrovato, director of food and beverage at La Jolla’s NINE-TEN Restaurant & Bar, says the best way to warm up after winter is by trying some of the newest spicy cocktails around San Diego. But he envisions creativity going beyond just adding a dash of Tabasco to make a spicy margarita. It’s about complexity and a unique approach.

“[We’re] actually going into multiple layers of flavor that go well together. That’s where we’re heading when it comes to incorporating spice into cocktails,” he says, pointing to options like NINE-TEN’s Sweet & Sassy signature cocktail. Made with Maestro Dobel Pavito blanco tequila—a tequila that’s specifically known for a strong botanical profile—as well as Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, Danish Cherry Heering liqueur, lemon, and a habanero tincture, the result is a tongue-tinglingly spicy cocktail unlike any other.


“Pavito tequila isn’t a regular tequila,” Aaron says. “It’s almost a cross between a gin and a tequila. It has that botanical component as well, which makes it very interesting.”

Spring and summer cocktails tend to focus more on lighter spirits—such as vodka, gin, or tequila—as opposed to dark spirits favored in colder weather. However, Aaron points out, the main difference between spring and summer cocktails tends to be balance between flavors. Summer drinks are often extremely fruit forward, leaning more into the “light and bright” element. “Bringing in some of the more herbal character goes really well with spring,” he says, pointing to the seasonal availability of fresh herbs as opposed to summertime favorites such as stone fruit or citrus.

Looking at this year’s trends, Aaron thinks there’s going to be more heat-driven concoctions on menus across the county. “What we’ve started to see a bit more, and what we’ve started to utilize, is bringing in the spice component (as in heat) mixed with some fruit characters on the back end.” Sounds like a delicious (and spirited) way to welcome spring to San Diego.


Sweet & Sassy by NINE-TEN Restaurant & Bar 
Maestro Dobel Pavito blanco tequila, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, Cherry Heering, lemon, habanero tincture. La Jolla nine-ten.com

Small Axe by Madison on Park
Los Javis mezcal, Ancho Reyes chile liqueur, Peychaud’s bitters, lime, black lava salt rim. University Heights madisononpark.com

Keys’ Razor by Paradisaea
Lalo tequila blanco, Génépy, licor de chile pasilla, lime, honeydew, mint. La Jolla paradisaea.com

Spicy Margarita by ARLO
Casamigos Reposado tequila, Ancho Reyes Verde (green poblano pepper liqueur), muddled serrano peppers, lime, agave (available spicy or extra spicy). Mission Valley arlosandiego.com